A shoal of bodies, sporting DayGlo style swim hats and suited up in Snugg and ORCA wetsuits, gathered at the far end of Perranporth beach last Sunday. If you joined up the orange headed dots there’d only be one picture revealed - the opening 1km swim section of the ever popular 20th Perranporth Extreme Surf Triathlon. Follow a dip in the sea with the hilly hell of the 35km cycle and a 7.5km jaunt across some soul sapping sand and you get the bit about “extreme”.
The competitors stretched and jangled limbs, waved at friends and waited, waited. Some dived and swam a bit before the off, literally testing the waters. What waves there were lay low, the big rollers of other years a memory - much to the relief of those less used to wild, sea surf. Some folk looked focused, some looked glazed, some looked like winners. Mostly they looked frighteningly fit. There’s a communal vibration that’s pulses almost tangibly when a gathering like this goes on. It’s seductive and maddening and had me wishing I was in the race. I pushed this thought aside for later and thought of Clint Eastwood muttering, “Every good man knows his limits".
Having volunteered to marshal I’d ended up "official" photographer to stand in for the blokes that normally cover the event. Now "the camera never lies" is an old chestnut that, as every photographer knows, is patently untrue. As the countdown to the start drew nearer, neoprene encapsulated nerves twitched and risked turning into something looking pretty close to fear on the faces of virgin competitors, or those veterans who'd wished they'd packed more training in. But as the camera pulled up to capture the proceedings, it wasn't fear I framed in the lens but the forced rictus of a smile, a jokey gesture or a thumbs up. If anyone was anxious, they weren’t going to let it show.“True Grit”, “Right Stuff” and other suitably cinematic tag lines seemed appropriate. I hoped it wasn’t going to be “Die Hard” for some.
One hour, forty three minutes and thirty four seconds later (just outside the course record set in 2003) young Harry Wiltshire crossed the line to win the Men's Open event. Having set a blistering pace and with the sun coming out like a blowtorch towards the end of the race, I expected torrents of sweat - not the fine sheen of moisture on the winner’s brow. Whilst later finishers grimaced and rolled to the ground, all spent and done, there was a fluidity and ease with which Wiltshire unzipped the tracking chip from his ankle that suggested he’d been warming up for something bigger. His sights are set on Beijing 2008.
Matt Pullen followed a few minutes later just pipping Perranporth’s own Andy Byatt, another elite performer into third place. For the women, Sam Herridge crossed the line just over two hours after starting, followed by Helen Parkinson and Perranporth’s Jemma Holland pulling out what they refer to in footballing circles as “a top drawer” performance. Michael Birchmore, surely one to watch, also of Perrranporth Surf Lifesaving Club won the Junior Men’s race bagging another great result for the club in their 50th anniversary year.
As the competitors chomped through the catering tent, grabbed a post-race massage and headed to the Sunset Bar for the presentations, I glanced up at the banner set across the finishing line. “Are You Tough Enough?” , challenged the banner. I wondered.
Event Sponsors: Skinners Brewery, Cycle Logic, Snugg Wetsuits, Ponsmere Hotel, The Watering Hole, PureBlue